Asbestos waste is hazardous to human health and considered hazardous waste.
Although there are estimates that up to a third of Australian houses contain some form of asbestos, there is an ongoing need to educate workers in the construction and demolition industries about the health impacts of this kind of waste.
In Australia, anyone removing more than 10 square meters of non-friable (or bonded) asbestos must be licensed under Work-Safe legislation. In WA the Department of Mining, Industry Regulation and Safety administer asbestos removal licenses.
While asbestos removal is a licensed activity, the transport of asbestos waste is not licensed in WA. Asbestos waste is listed as a controlled waste in WA but was exempted from the licensing and tracking provisions of the Controlled Waste Regulations in 2004.
Let’s start with a few basic facts about asbestos waste:
Any asbestos removed from land or buildings is classed as asbestos waste. There is no legal way to re-use asbestos so anytime it is taken from one place to another, it is transported as waste.
Asbestos cannot be re-used, recycled or treated in any way, so it must be taken to a landfill that is lawfully allowed to accept asbestos waste for disposal.
Asbestos waste does not attract the landfill levy in Western Australia. Landfill is the only legal disposal option for asbestos waste. Because it cannot be diverted from landfill, it does not attract the landfill levy.
Any waste generated in the Perth metropolitan area and disposed of in a landfill must pay the landfill levy of $70 per tonne. Asbestos waste is the exception, and metropolitan landfills can claim a levy rebate for this waste. Landfill operators should pass the rebate onto their customers.
However, landfill operators do charge a gate or tipping fee, and asbestos has special handling requirements so although there should not be a levy charge, there is a cost for asbestos disposal.
The landfill levy exemption does not apply to waste or soil that is contaminated with asbestos. So, while separated and wrapped asbestos sheeting does not attract the levy, asbestos contaminated material (that is, asbestos mixed with other waste) will. This measure is designed to stop people from deliberately mixing asbestos into other wastes to avoid the levy.
Although asbestos is exempt from the licensing and tracking requirements of the Controlled Waste Regulations, asbestos waste is listed as controlled waste and has special transportation requirements including wrapping and labeling. (Want to know more about transport requirements for asbestos? Find out here)
So, should asbestos be licensed and tracked like other controlled wastes? The WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation thinks it should.
Why? Because asbestos waste transport is tracked in every other Australian state and it’s impossible to know where it’s coming from and how much is going to landfill without tracking data.
The human health risks of poorly managed, transported and dumped asbestos are dangerous enough for this waste to be considered a hazardous waste. Australia has the second highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. More than 600 people died from mesothelioma in 2014 and up to 25,000 people are predicted to die from this disease in the next forty years. New cases of mesothelioma are overwhelmingly due to by workers sawing, sanding, drilling, grinding or handling asbestos-contaminated materials. Specific high-risk jobs include boiler workers, power plant workers, carpenters, railway workers and naval workers.
The impact of making asbestos the same as other controlled wastes is that a whole new group of people will need to be licensed as controlled waste carriers and every load of asbestos over 200 kg will need to be tracked (tracking fees range between $44 for an electronic tracking form and $57 for a paper form).
Like all waste transport and tracking costs, the additional fees are likely to be passed onto the person or business disposing of the asbestos, and this will make renovations, demolitions and rehabilitating contaminated land more expensive.
However, wouldn’t you want to know that asbestos was being disposed of in the safest possible way?
If you want to know more about asbestos waste or your controlled waste obligations, get in touch here.